(Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13, 2 Peter 3:8-15a)
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
For me, growing up with three sisters and no brothers had both its pros and its cons. Sure, there was an endless supply of kisses and pampering. And yes, I never had to get into any fist fights with my sisters. The wrestling could only go so far before I had to reign in my aggression. I had to learn the art of diplomacy and resolving issues through discussions rather than through physical means. I came to understand a deep sense of beauty in the world, fragile and complex, that only girls and women nurture. Of course, these pros weren’t without their accompanying cons. The pampering could get smothering at times. A good fist fight could have resolved a fight or two a whole lot quicker. Instead, they dragged on longer than they should have because hurt feelings were involved! My sisters’ awareness of beauty caused them to subject me to many beauty pageants over the years.
The Miss America pageant isn’t quite as big today as it was 30 years ago. I recall having to sit through several Miss America pageants back in the day thanks to my sisters. Anyone who’s ever watched one of these pageants knows that the most compelling part of the show was the question and answer segment. Invariably, each contestant was asked what their greatest dream for the world was. Some contestants would hope for more educational opportunities for women. Some would hope to end world hunger. Some would hope for more kindness in the world. There was always a contestant who would hope for world peace. Everybody watching would scoff at such a response. “World peace?! Doesn’t she realize that’s impossible?! What a ditz!” would be the typical reaction to such a response. Yet year after year, there was always a contestant who would dream of world peace and every year it would get the same reaction from viewers. They’d ask, “Doesn’t she realize that that response makes her look stupid?”
The sad truth is that we live in a world that doesn’t believe that world peace is possible. Many people have been hurt enough and exposed to enough violence and suffering that they no longer believe universal peace is possible in this world. When we hear of a beautiful woman on television dreaming of world peace, we think she’s deluded to even suggest that such a reality is even possible in this world. Why? Why is it so hard to believe that world peace is possible and something we should be putting our energy into achieving? Perhaps because we don’t understand what world peace entails. Perhaps if we better understood what world peace entailed, then we’d see that it is indeed possible.
All of our readings for today help us to better understand the nature of peace. This is our second week of Advent in which we are waiting for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to be born. Last week we took a realistic look at what exactly we’re waiting for. Yes, the birth of Jesus is the beginning of something new. It’s the beginning of a new relationship we have with God. God comes to us a man and in so doing changes the dynamics of our relationship with Him. God is no longer the great, incomprehensible, all-knowing, all-powerful, yet distant God. God comes near to us. God experiences what we experience in coming to us as a man. The birth of Jesus is an ending to our wrong relationships with God. Jesus’ birth is an ending to a distant relationship. Our readings from last week prepared us to appreciate both the beginnings and endings of our lives during this season of waiting. This week’s readings help us to appreciate an aspect of Jesus that brings both a beginning and ending. All throughout Scripture, Jesus is given many titles. “Emmanuel,” “Son of God,” “Lord,” “Christ,” “Messiah,” “Redeemer,” and “Good Shepherd” are but a few of the titles he receives. There is one title that is a mysterious title: “Prince of Peace.” We await the coming of our “Prince of Peace” so we should try to better understand the nature of Jesus’ peace.
We hear from the prophet Isaiah a dramatic shift in God’s relationship with the people of Israel. In all the chapters leading up to today’s reading, God was speaking words of judgment and condemnation to Isaiah. God was angry with His people and made sure that Isaiah relayed His anger. Suddenly, God shifts from judgment to comfort. Isaiah says, “Comfort, O Comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” All the years of God’s wrath had come to an end. The people of Judah were to receive peace once again. How does God send His peace to the people? By sending the Son, the Prince of Peace. That is why the people are told to “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Only “then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all the people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Did you catch that? God’s peace comes to us through the Son. Notice that God’s peace is NOT simply stopping of the punishment. God’s peace is NOT simply God leaving the people alone to do whatever it is they wanted. God’s peace is NOT simply good rains, good fruit, and good relationships. God’s peace comes to us through the Son, the Prince of Peace. “He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” This is how God’s peace comes to us, through the shepherd.
Just as the people of Judah were eager to hear of God’s peace through Isaiah, David longed to hear the same peace in his own situation. He sang, “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.” David asked for the same peace for his people as Isaiah asked for his people. They both wanted more than an end to God’s anger or good rains and fruit and relationships. They both wanted a renewed relationship with God. They wanted to know the peace of God and to have right relationship with God. Out of these stem true and lasting peace. All other measures of peace will fade over time. The peace of God and being in right relationship with God will provide for all our needs.
It’s no wonder that Peter advises us to “strive to be found by him at peace” while we wait for the new heavens and the new earth to come to us. When we are anxious and worry whether God will provide for our needs, we lose sight of all the ways that God already provides for us. In our times of waiting, in our Advent season of waiting, God wants us to wait in peace. It is when we wait in peace that we fully appreciate all the blessings of our lives. Peace and contentment allow us to see how truly generous and gracious our God is. You see, worrying and discord only keep us from fully knowing God. Without peace, we can’t know God. Without peace, we can’t know the love of God. And if we can’t know the love of God then we’re a doomed people indeed! We need peace. So perhaps those seemingly ditzy pageant contestants are onto something after all with their requests for world peace…
In my reflections on peace this week, I came across an interesting study out of Duke University that I thought I’d share. It was a study on “peace of mind” and found there are 8 factors that contribute greatly to achieving a so-called “peace of mind:”
- The absence of suspicion and resentment. Nursing a grudge was a major factor in unhappiness.
- Not living in the past. An unwholesome preoccupation with old mistakes and failures leads to depression.
- Not wasting time and energy fighting conditions you cannot change. Cooperate with life instead of trying to run away from it.
- Force yourself to stay involved with the living world. Resist the temptation to withdraw and become reclusive during periods of emotional stress.
- Refuse to indulge in self-pity when life hands you a raw deal. Accept the fact that nobody gets through life without some sorrow and misfortune.
- Cultivate the old-fashioned virtues: love, humor, compassion and loyalty.
- Do not expect too much of yourself. When there is too wide a gap between self-expectation and your ability to meet the goals you have set, feelings of inadequacy are inevitable.
- Find something bigger than yourself to believe in. Self-centered egotistical people score the lowest in any test for measuring happiness.
These are 8 practical ways that can help any of us achieve a “peace of mind.” Achieving peace of mind is the first step to achieving total peace and contentment. Then we must work on achieving peace of body and peace of spirit. There are many ways to achieve peace of body, from dieting to exercising to sleeping to healing to simply complimenting. There are countless self-help books and magazines available at the nearest bookstore or library. There is ONE very reliable book to help us achieve peace of spirit: the Bible. In particular, today’s readings help us to achieve peace of spirit.
Our gospel reading starts us at the beginning of Mark’s account of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection. It references Isaiah’s prophecy of one crying out in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord and making his paths straight. John the Baptist assumes this responsibility, preparing the way for Jesus. John baptizes with water while Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit. This is an important distinction that Mark makes. John’s baptism simply cleansed the person of their sin. Jesus’ baptism instilled a deep awareness of God in the person with the Holy Spirit. Being cleansed is one thing, knowing God is another. The people of Judah, King David, and the apostle Peter wanted more than simply being cleansed. They wanted to know God and be in right relationship with God. They wanted to know the peace of God, not simply the absence of God’s anger. Jesus fulfills their wish. Jesus IS the Peace of God! Jesus is the Prince of Peace!
As we wait for the birth of Jesus this Advent season, let us recognize that we wait for the Prince of Peace. We need peace, perhaps more in this hectic time of the year. And believe it or not, world peace IS actually achievable! All we have to do is share the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. That’s how we achieve world peace. Peace comes not through good rains, good fruit, or good relationships. Peace comes through the Son! Simply sharing the Son will ensure world peace will be achieved. Let the Son do the impossible…let God do the impossible! There is a wise expression, “safety consists not in the absence of danger but in the presence of God.” This holiday season take time to seek out the peace of God. Seek out the Prince of Peace. He calls out to you, “shh, be at peace.”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.